An investigation by healthcare website Pulse has found that GP surgery closures across the UK have reached an all-time high, with a record 138 GP surgeries shutting down last year at a rate of two a week.
The report shows that In 2018, almost 140 surgeries closed and in the first month of 2019, there had already been 12 more closures, compared with eight at the same time the year before.
It also found that in the five-year period from 2013 to 2017, there were 445 surgery closures across the UK, including full practice closures, branch closures and surgery mergers, affecting some 1.4 million patients.
Allegedly, many of the problems stem from the recruitment crisis as while demand continues to increase, there are declining numbers of GPs available to meet it, with the most recent NHS Digital figures showing there are 1,180 fewer full-time-equivalent GPs than three years ago.
The closures are directly affecting smaller practices, with nine out of 10 practices (86%) that closed last year – and had their practice lists dispersed – serving fewer than 5,000 patients.
The report suggests that the decline in the number of smaller practices could partly be the result of a bias towards larger practices from policymakers, certainly in England.
Tower Hamlets local medical committee chair and GP Dr Jackie Applebee says that the system is “creaking”, as “The smaller practices, which patients prefer and which have good outcomes, are being lost because of the under-resourcing.”
She continued, ‘Primary care networks certainly won’t save general practice. We’ve been told there’s all this extra money coming in but the CCGs have to find the £1.50 per patient from their budgets. They haven’t budgeted for that and didn’t know this was happening until January of this year.”
NHS England disputed the figures, claiming that: “In England there were fewer practice closures and patient dispersals in 2017/18 compared with 2016/17 and we continue to support all general practices to help them thrive,” it said.
“Thousands of practices continue to be helped through the GP resilience programme, where investment has been increased from a planned £8m in 2019/20 to £13m.”